It seems that everyone has some theory about what foods make us fat, which foods are evil, and what foods will cure every known illness. The list of what not to eat keeps growing, as does the list of what you absolutely must eat if you are going to be healthy. Most parents want their children to be healthy and often that includes not wanting their children to be fat. Because of this parents often enforce rules and restrictions about food, convinced that it is in the best interest of their children. Parents may be completely unconditional and uncontrolling in every other area, but remain rigid and restrictive when it comes to food.
Recently a friend was posting gluten free recipes on facebook, which makes sense since she lives with Celiac Disease, and one of her friends asked if it was the flour, the gluten or the carbohydrates that make us fat. Well guess what? Baring any real health issues, none of those things "make us fat."
Before I go any further let me point out that how much someone weighs is no indication of their level of health, fitness or happiness. It is entirely possible to be a well rounded person and to be happier and healthier than a person who wears a size 0.
What should matter to us is whether or not our children have a healthy relationship with food. The question "What food makes us fat?" is not the question I want to ask in relation to my own body or the bodies of my family. I would rather ask: What makes us feel good? How does food bring us joy? How do we ensure that our children have a healthy relationship with food? The answer to that last question is Trust. We must trust that our children know what is best for their bodies. When we trust our children, we give them the space they need to learn about their own bodies and what their bodies need. Our children will create their own relationships with food. When we try and control that process we get in the way of their ability to know what they really need. We cause them to doubt their own wisdom, we pass along our own food issues, we get in the way. We must accept that different bodies need different foods. We must remember that people have all different shaped bodies, and not hold one up as ideal or healthiest. When we explore life with our children we can be a resource of information, but we must be careful that we are giving them accurate information. When it comes to food it can be hard to know what the truth is. The best way to find out the truth about food is to try different things and pay attention to our bodies. It may be true that if I eat 2 Red Vines I feel sick, but my daughter may be able to eat a whole package without feeling any affect. When I tell my daughter,"If you eat more of those you will feel sick," I am telling her my truth. However, if she eats more and does not feel sick then she knows that my truth is not her truth, and I become less trust worthy when it comes to providing information about food and its affects on her body. It is more helpful when I say, "If I eat more than two I feel sick, how do they make you feel?"
When it comes to food, what are you afraid of? Are you afraid that your children will get some terrible disease? Are you worried about what the grandparents will say if your child tends to be chubby? Are you afraid your children will have the same issues around food that you have, even as you are creating new food issues that your children will be struggling with their entire lives? Fear makes our world smaller. We need to embrace food as we embrace life. We need to celebrate the joy and pleasure that comes from sharing food with our families. We need to let go of our fears. Look around you and notice what people are eating. You will see that there are people living joyful lives eating all kinds of foods. You will also notice that people who eat "healthy foods" get sick some times and people who eat "junk food" can be healthy. You may notice that in families where children make their own choices about food those choices are diverse, nutritious and as individual as the children.
Remember: nothing is more important than your relationship with your children, and that includes food. Your relationship with your child can directly impact their relationship with food. Some people who have an unhealthy relationship with food do so because they learned to use food to self-sooth. The struggle some adults have with food and weight can be a mirror of the struggles they faced in their childhood for acceptance and love, a reaction to the controls or restrictions adults placed on foods, or a response to the messages they received about their body shape or size. Children who grow up with unconditional love, in a family with strong connections and trusting relationships, are more likely to have a healthy relationship with their body and with food. Children in these families have been able to explore a variety of foods and eating patterns, listen to their bodies, and figure out what they need to eat to feel healthy.
If food is creating conflict or power struggles in your family think about the messages you are sending to your children. Do you use guilt, fear, bribes or threats to get your children to eat what you think they should eat? Are your children learning to listen to their bodies? Are you telling them how food can make them fat and unhealthy, or are you supporting them in becoming healthy individuals who enjoy food? Unless your child has a severe allergy or a serious health issue nothing they choose to eat is going to hurt them as much as the disconnect in your relationship that is caused when you try to control what they are eating.
Nothing is more important than your relationship with your children, and that includes food.